One of the most contentious issues in the recently ended B.C. teachers’ strike was the decreased availability of education assistants and professional learning specialists in schools.
The government has said it will fund more specialists and classroom assistants, but how that will be divided up is anyone’s guess.
The movement to place more students with severe behavioural challenges or other special needs into regular classrooms, to integrate them with the rest of the student population, is a noble idea and one that makes sense from a purely moral and ethical point of view.
From a practical standpoint, some of these students remain unable to handle the stresses of everyday class life and require almost constant attention and supervision from classroom assistants. But those same assistants and specialists are often tasked with helping struggling students in multiple classes get through challenging learning situations.
While B.C.’s education budget has gradually increased since being decimated shortly after the Liberals came to power, the allotment of funding for special needs education has not kept pace. The result is classrooms where students having a tough time in mandatory subjects like math or science are not able to get the individual attention they need to thrive. They often fall through the cracks and at worst, fail the course and have to retake it.
Classroom size is an issue that will likely go on long after the current contract expires. Everyone knows teachers are maxed out trying to help two dozen kids or more succeed in their courses, an especially tough situation for those educators with special needs students in their classrooms who require more individual help than those without such designations.
Taking special needs students out of classrooms would be a definite step backwards, from both a diversity and a humanitarian standpoint. So, it’s critical that the province fund a educational scenario that better meets the needs of all students and doesn’t leave those who are struggling waiting in vain for time-crunched teachers to work with them.
We hope the province learns this lesson while schools are in session.